Barton Goes to Bat for Rangers in Tax Overhaul Game

Texas Republican hopes to preserve a break for the home team

Republican team manager, Texas Rep. Joe L. Barton, right, talks with Democratic team manager, Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Doyle, before the 50th annual Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park in 2011. (Tom Williams/Roll Call file photo)

Updated 11/16/17 10:21 a.m. | Texas Republican Rep. Joe L. Barton said Monday he was leaning toward voting “yes” on the House tax overhaul bill, but he was still on the fence because of a district issue he wanted to fix.

Barton declined to reveal the issue at the time. It became clear Tuesday based on an amendment he filed to the bill in the House Rules Committee that his hangup is about the Texas Rangers.

Yes, the baseball team. The Rangers are building a new air-conditioned, retractable-roof stadium through a combination of public and private financing in Arlington, a city which mostly lies in Barton’s 6th District.

In November 2016, Arlington voters approved a proposition to allow the city to finance up to $500 million of the estimated $1 billion project.

The city is planning to use bonds to finance its contribution. Under current tax law, state and local bonds are exempt from taxes. However, the House tax bill would alter that provision to specify that bonds used to finance construction or capital expenses for professional sports stadiums are subject to federal taxes.

Barton has offered an amendment to the tax bill to grandfather in the Rangers stadium, although he didn’t name the team. Instead, his amendment provides for an exemption for any professional stadium bond “approved by voter referendum of the applicable governmental unit, and the construction of the facility with respect to which began, before November 2, 2017.”

The Rangers broke ground on their new stadium on Sept. 28. The Arlington City Council approved the bond package but is not planning to sell until the spring.

Barton said his amendment has fellow Texan and Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady’s support. While he does not have an official Joint Committee on Taxation score, he said “the seat of the pants estimate” from experts in Arlington is it could cost around $84 million.

“I don’t think that’s excessive,” he said, citing the nearly $1.5 trillion cost of the overall bill.

The Rules Committee did not make any amendments and Brady did not have a manager’s amendment.

Brady, who represents a Houston-area district, declined to give a straight answer when asked if he expected the final tax bill to include Barton’s proposal.

“I am an Astros fan,” he said. “But it’s a very reasonable request for me to make sure the transition is accurate for that provision. I know Congressman Barton and I have talked about this. … We will continue to work together in conference, as I am with a number of members’ provisions.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the estimated cost of Barton’s amendment.

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